The Arabian Desert, where cultures meet: a quick trip into its history

The Arabian Peninsula is a region in Western Asia encompassing seven modern-day nations including Saudi Arabia. It is home to the Arabian desert, 2nd largest desert and one of the most historically rich parts of the world with civilizations dating back thousands of years. The majority of the desert lies within the Kingdom’s borders, with its mass spilling into Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq and UAE. With its strategic position at the center of major ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe; the desert acted as a bridge linking the East and West.


Since the beginning of the first millennium BCE, each part of the desert was home to numerous kingdoms – many of which existed around the same time period and were referred to by the ancient Greeks as “Arabia Felix” meaning Arabia the Blessed. These were: Ma’in, Sheba, Hadramout, Awsan and others around the southern corner. Nabatea, Dadan and Tayma in the north and northwest. Thaj, Magan and Gerrha to the east, and at the center of the desert were Al Magar people and Qaryat Al Faw.


It’s fascinating to think about the extent of rich history within each kingdom with its notable figures, trade routes, foreign relations, distinguishable art style and artifacts; many of which are found today on display in major museums such as Ithra museum in Dhahran, preserving the stories behind each item and their origins. In AlUla city northwest of the Kingdom, archaeological evidence of ancient civilizations such as Dadan, Thamud and the Nabateans can be found dating back as far as 10,000 years. Some of the ancient wall art and inscriptions found around the Kingdom share similarities with those of Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean, showcasing the influence of the distinct civilizations connecting through trade over thousands of years.


In regards to flora and fauna, the desert’s harsh climate makes way for specific types of plant life to grow: xerophytic plants, surviving on very little water; and halophytic plants, which are plants that tolerate salt. Plant growth in the desert is sporadic and buried seeds will bloom fast once rain falls in the springtime.


Despite it now being barren, the Arabian desert was once lush with greenery and pools of fresh water. However, around 5000 years ago, overgrazing by Arabian horses that hail from the region - among other causes - led to barren expanses of desert that horses were no longer able to inhabit. Ever resourceful, the people of the region successfully domesticated camels which were able to withstand the desert’s climate and allowed nomads and Bedouin traders to travel long distances in hot and dry weather; enabling trans-desert trade to thrive.


Seize the chance to learn more about the rich history of the Arabian desert and see its beauty firsthand by organizing your trip with Sana Tourism, your one-stop-shop for everything tourism in the Kingdom. Reach us by clicking here!

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